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A man from Florida has pleaded guilty in federal court to a single count of wire fraud in an attempt to extort $25 million from Rep. Matt Gaetz’s father, prosecutors announced on Monday.
According to reports, 62-year-old Stephen Alford appeared in court in Pensacola to admit that he devised a scheme aimed at Don Gaetz, the GOP lawmaker’s wealthy father, and to making false promises that he would be able to secure a presidential pardon for the congressman who has been implicated in a federal probe involving sex trafficking.
Initially, Alford entered a plea of not guilty, so the admission to the scheme marks a turnaround in the case. The Northwest Florida Daily News reported that a separate charge of evidence tampering was dropped.
The Washington Examiner has more:
Alford’s sentencing is set for Feb. 16 before District Judge M. Casey Rodgers. He is facing up to 20 years of prison followed by supervised release, according to the Justice Department. Politico reported he could also face a fine of up to $250,000.
Alford, who court records show was previously convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison, allegedly oversaw the scheme’s development between March 16 and April 7 and supplied someone identified as “Person A” with D.G.’s [identified as Don Gaetz] phone number to discuss the release of “R.L.” from captivity in Iran.
R.L. is believed to be former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in Iran in 2007. Levinson’s family said in March 2020 they presume he is dead.
In addition, Person A also brought up the subject of a “current federal investigation” to a family member of D.G., said an indictment previously returned by a federal grand jury, while pledging to help with a presidential pardon for a family member.
Congressman Gaetz, meanwhile, provided the Washington Examiner with documentation that included text message screenshots, a typewritten document, and an email that appeared to show former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer Bob Kent offering to his father “a plan that can make [Matt Gaetz’s] future legal and political problems go away.”
Kent confirmed to the outlet that the documentation was authentic, but he said he was never involved in any extortion scheme.
“I never threatened the man. Matter of fact, it was the opposite. I told him if he decides not to help us, he’ll never hear from me again,” Kent noted in an early April interview.
For his part, Gaetz has denied all wrongdoing, especially as it related to the sex trafficking allegations. In a September interview, he addressed them after Alford was indicted by federal prosecutors, which he said essentially exonerated him.
“The allegations against me are as searing as they are false,” he told Axios at the time. “I believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know when I was a single guy.”
“The allegations of sexual misconduct against me are false,” he said. “They are rooted in an extortion effort against my family for $25 million … in exchange for making this case go away.”
He also defended himself in a series of tweets in March as the accusations against him were trending on Twitter.
“Over the past several weeks my family and I have been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name,” he said.
“We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter and my father has even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals. The planted leak to The New York Times tonight was intended to thwart that investigation,” the congressman said.
“No part of the allegations against me are true, and the people pushing these lies are targets of the ongoing extortion investigation,” he said.